State employees facing higher health care costs

John Carney

DOVER — Higher costs for premiums and deductibles are likely coming for state government employees.

It’s just a matter of what those changes will look like.

The State Employee Benefits Committee convened Monday to discuss potential increases for the tens of thousands of individuals on state health care plan.
While it did not approve any plan, many options remain on the table.

Gov. John Carney’s budget proposal called for shifting millions in costs onto government employees as part of a series of steps aimed at eliminating a large gap between projected revenue and spending.

The recommendations also suggested ending the double state share which allows couples who work for the state to essentially pay one premium for health care.

However, the governor left the specifics for saving $6.5 million up to the SEBC, which has the authority to change employee health care plans.

Any modification to plans must take place by June 30, when the fiscal year ends.

While most of the state government’s employees do not currently have deductibles, they may soon. The SEBC batted around adding deductibles for plans that lack them, ranging from $50 to $500 for an individual.

The committee could also vote to raise premiums. A 1-percent increase would save the state $3.4 million, while taking a little bit more out of government employees’ pockets every month.

Health care costs have been rapidly rising and are projected to continue doing so, leading to policymakers pushing for reform. Among the goals is to make state employees more aware of the costs of health care and thus turn them into “smarter consumers.”

“We’ve had the discussion here, which is how do we promote better consumerism and choice,” Office of Management and Budget Director Mike Jackson said Monday.

The committee discussed incentivizing state employees to be healthier, such as with higher costs for smokers or rewards for employees who get a physical on an annual basis.

Two years ago, then Gov. Jack Markell pushed for changes that would save the state money and place a greater cost burden on state employees. However, his plans were met with strong opposition from government employees.

Ultimately, the committee settled for smaller changes, cutting coverage for Viagra and Cialis, raising costs for prescriptions and increasing some copays.

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